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SkyMoms > Parenting Tips

Why We Must Give Our Kids The Freedom To Strike Out

Confession. For much of my life, I’ve struggled with fears of rejection and failure. Whether these fears are part of my DNA or whether they rose from an unfortunate incident involving an unkind neighbor when I tried to sell him cookies in grade school, I’m not real sure. But the fears are there, and I’ve struggled to liberate myself from them for a long time.

I vividly remember almost not trying out for cheerleader when I was a junior in high school because I was afraid I wouldn’t make the squad. And I remember removing myself from officer elections during my sorority years for the same reason. I’m sure there are countless other things I’ve not done along the way because I was afraid of fear and rejection.

It’s one of the things I like least about myself, so helping my children overcome any fears of failure or rejection they may have is a top priority for me. I want them to learn now what it’s taking me most of my life to understand:

Failure is one of our best teachers, and success is born upon its back.

Last week, I referenced our oldest son’s struggle with sports. This baseball season has been particularly tough because they’ve moved from coach to player pitch. Though he ended last year with a batting average of 500, this year, for seven games straight, he’s swung at the ball maybe twice. To his credit, many of his at-bats have resulted in walks and runs, but his dad and I knew he wasn’t swinging at balls he could hit.

We’ve struggled with how to respond.

We don’t want to minimize the significance of walking in baseball. It takes a good eye to call balls and strikes. But we also don’t want him not to swing because he’s afraid he’ll strike out. In both our guts, we knew we were dealing with the latter.

I recently picked up Tim Elmore’s book – 12 Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid – at the recommendation of some friends who work in education. Mistake number one on his list?

We Won’t Let Them Fail.

Elmore says this:

“When people – especially young people – know they are free to try something and fail, their performance usually improves. It brings out the best in them. But if they are preoccupied with trying not to fail, they become paralyzed.” (12 Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid, page 34).

That described our son in the batter’s box perfectly. “Paralyzed.

It made me wonder.

Were we effectively communicating to our son that it was OK to strike out?

Or were we unintentionally sending him messages to the contrary?

I wasn't sure, but I’m learning that when in doubt, it’s best to over-communicate. So Saturday morning before his game, I casually brought it up.

I asked him if liked baseball. He told me he did.

I asked him if he wanted to be good at baseball. He told me he did.

I asked him what he needed to do if he wanted to get a hit. He told me he needed to swing at the ball.

And then I went for it.

I asked him if he thought his dad or I would be angry with him if he struck out. He said he didn’t think that. But just in case, I said something like this:

“The only thing that will ever upset your dad and me is if you don’t give your best effort, on or off the baseball field. We don’t care if you strike out. We don’t care if you mess up. We only care that you try. When you do something amazing, we’re going to go nuts about it in celebration. But when you don’t, we aren’t upset with you. We’re just going to save the praise for the times when you’ve earned it.”

He smiled. We hugged. And that was it.

I couldn’t attend his baseball game that morning, as we had three kids who needed to be in different places at the same time. But I got a call from our son after the game. He got a hit, stole second, scored a run, and got the game ball! Just as promised, I “went nuts in celebration” over the phone.

Did he swing at the ball because I gave him the speech that morning? I’ll never know for sure, but I don’t regret taking extra measures to create a safe place for him to fail.

And what I do know is this. Our son learned a valuable lesson that day. If he wants to be a good baseball player, he’s got to swing the bat!